Inexplicably and without notice on Yom Kippur eve, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Superior Court Judge David Yaffe came to his senses and concluded the jailing of anti-tax crusader Richard I. Fine 18 months ago would not break his will.
On Thursday, Yaffe issued a court order (Yaffe-Fine.pdf) refusing the Tarzana attorney’s latest filing seeking to annul the contempt of court case and other rulings against him. Neither Fine nor the attorneys for the Marina del Rey developer, Marina Strand Colony II, which had sought Fine’s financial records, were present.
Yaffe wrote his previous orders were final so he had no jurisdiction over any aspect of the case except whether the jailing of Fine in March 2009 amounted to coercive confinement that no longer served a purpose since Fine had not backed down. It is unprecedented for coercive confinement to last more than five days, the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court years ago in a case involving LA Times reporter Bill Farr.
“The only continuing jurisdiction that this court retains in case B8109420 is the discretion to release Fine from confinement in the county jail on the ground that his continued confinement will not induce him to answer questions put to him in a
joint debtors examination,” Yaffe wrote.
“Fine’s demand for a release on that ground was ruled on by this court on August 23, 2010, and is calendared for further consideration six months from’ that date.”
Yaffe noted that even if he had jurisdiction, the incarcerated Fine filed his request 13 days before the August hearing when legal procedures required 16 days’ notice.
“The Court will take this matter under submission solely for the purpose of adding to this ruling corrections to certain misstatements of fact made by Fine in his moving papers,” Yaffe said.
Yet, 24 hours later, Yaffe, who is retiring next month, issued another order freeing Fine, apparently accepting the fact that someone who refused to back down for 18 months could not be coerced even if held in jail for the rest of his life as the judge had vowed to do.”
Fine, who won numerous cases fighting illegally imposed taxes, ran afoul of the judiciary when he started crusading against secret illegal payments made to judges by county supervisors.
More than $40,000 a year was paid to each judge by the LA County Board of Supervisors in addition to their state-mandated salaries of nearly $180,000.
Fine claimed the payments influenced judges to rule in the county’s favor in 95 percent of the cases they handled and filed an endless stream of writs challenging the propriety of judges handling litigation involving the county where they were receiving illegal under-the-table payments from the county.
His position was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court and he legislature immediately passed a bill signed into law by the governor legalizing the payments, both past and present. The judges now get more than $50,000 in extra payments from the county.
Fine’s persistence led to the State Bar taking disciplinary action against him and disbarring him in early 2009.
That left him vulnerable a short time later when he appeared in court on behalf of homeowners to fight the Marina del Rey developer, raising related issues to the county-approved project. Yaffe granted the developer’s demand for Fine’s financial records and ordered him removed from court in handcuffs and jailed for contempt when he refused.
Fine has fought unsuccessfully for his release, taking his case twice to the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to hear the case. He has numerous habeas corpus and other legal filings pending in state and federal courts.
Fine’s case became a cause celebre for many like Leslie Dutton and her Full Disclosure Network which championed his cause nationwide while local media largely ignored it.